Top 5 MLB Prospects Playing Themselves onto the Trade Block This Spring
Every year prospects jump on to the major league radar with a strong performance in spring training. However, it’s not necessarily always with their current organization.
Teams scout and scrutinize specific prospects during the spring, keeping a close eye on up-and-coming players deemed to be future trade targets. These players usually project as contributors at the major league level (in some capacity), but are currently blocked at their natural positions and lack a clear path to playing time.
Here’s a look at five prospects that could still hit the trading block before Opening Day.
5. Ji-Man Choi, 1B, Seattle Mariners
Signed in 2009 out of South Korea, Ji-Man Choi batted .360/.440/.517 with 21 extra-base hits and 10 steals in 50 games during his pro debut the following year, splitting time between the Arizona League Mariners and High-A High Desert. Unfortunately, Choi spent the entire 2011 season on the disabled list with a strained back muscle. The setback in his development resulted in an assignment to Low-A Clinton in 2012, where Choi made up for the lost time by batting .298/.420/.463 with eight home runs and 43 RBI in 66 games.
Choi finally started moving up the organizational ladder last season, as the 22-year-old saw time at High-, Double- and Triple-A. Between all three stops, he batted .295/.394/.535 with 36 doubles, 18 home runs and 85 RBI in 122 games. The left-handed hitter also posted a 68-63 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 499 plate appearances during that span.
With Justin Smoak blocking his path to the major leagues, and either Corey Hart or Logan Morrison poised to take over if he falters—I guess Jesus Montero is in the mix too—Choi represents solid trade bait for a team in need of a first baseman or lefty bat on the bench.
4. Michael Taylor, OF, Oakland Athletics
It wasn’t long ago Michael Taylor was considered one of baseball’s top prospects. Drafted by the Phillies in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, Taylor breezed through the minor leagues, spending roughly a half-season at every level, and had reached Triple-A by the end of the 2009 season. However, the then-23-year-old was traded in mid-December to the Blue Jays (along with Travis d’Arnaud and Kyle Drabek) in exchange for Roy Halladay. Later that day he was flipped to the A’s for Brett Wallace.
Even though Taylor, now 28, has put up solid numbers at Triple-A Sacramento over the last four seasons—albeit as an older hitter in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League—his game simply has never translated in the major leagues, evidenced by a .135 batting average in 81 plate appearances over parts of the last three seasons.
Taylor has shown untapped potential this spring, posting a 1.044 OPS with five doubles and three home runs in 21 games, but the fact that he’s out of contract options means he’ll have to make the Opening Day roster to avoid being placed on waivers.
However, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, Taylor still doesn’t appear to be a fit on the A’s roster despite his eye-opening performance this spring, and is already drawing interest from several teams. He definitely will not clear waivers, so expect the A’s to move him before Opening Day.
3. Jacob deGrom, RHP, New York Mets
Jacob deGrom opened eyes this spring in the major league camp, as the 25-year-old right-hander allowed one earned run and struck out seven batters in 7.1 innings.
A ninth-round draft pick in 2010 out of Stetson, deGrom missed the following season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but since then he’s moved quickly through the minor leagues. In 2013, he registered a 4.51 ERA (3.56 FIP) and 120-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 147.2 innings across three levels, including 75.2 frames at Triple-A Las Vegas.
Though the Mets have a giant hole to fill at shortstop, they already have made it clear that top prospects Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero will not be made available in a trade. DeGrom, on the other hand, isn’t on the same level as Syndergaard or Montero, but could serve as intriguing trade bait for a team needing rotation depth, specifically a team looking for a back-end starter within striking distance of the major leagues.
2. Devon Travis, 2B, Detroit Tigers
Selected in the 12th round of the 2012 draft out of Florida State University, Devon Travis’ prospect stock took off last season, courtesy of one of the best statistical performances among all Class-A prospects. Splitting the year between Low-A West Michigan and High-A Lakewood, Travis batted a robust .351/.418/.518 with 177 hits, 48 extra-base hits (16 home runs), 22 stolen bases and a stellar 64-53 strikeout-to-walk rate in 576 plate appearances.
At 5’9”, 183 pounds, Travis, a right-handed hitter, does an excellent job of getting the barrel on the ball and showcases surprising power thanks to above-average bat speed and strong wrists. He’s a patient hitter who employs a consistent approach at the plate and lets the ball travel deep—qualities that should translate favorably as he moves up the ladder. And while his defense lags behind the bat, he still possesses the quickness, range and hands to handle second base at the highest level.
Unfortunately, his opportunity to crack Detroit’s everyday lineup at the keystone won’t come until 2018 (at the earliest) following the offseason acquisition of Ian Kinsler from the Rangers. And considering the recent news that Jose Iglesias could miss the entire season, trading Travis, likely as part of a larger prospect package, could help the Tigers address their shortstop situation.
1. Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
Top prospect Gary Sanchez’s chance of becoming the Yankees’ catcher were crushed this offseason when the team signed free agent Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract.
In 2012, Sanchez batted .290/.344/.485 with 48 extra-base hits (18 home runs), 85 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 117 games between both A-ball levels. However, the 21-year-old didn’t progress offensively as expected last season, as he batted .253/.324/.412 with 42 extra-base hits (15 home runs) and an 87-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 509 plate appearances between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
Sanchez showcases above-average power potential from a well-balanced swing, with plus bat speed and a feel for striking the ball. Although he saw limited playing time this spring in major league camp, the right-handed hitter made the most of his opportunities by batting .364 with two home runs in 11 at-bats.
According to Andy McCullough of The Star Ledger (via Twitter), Yankees general manager Brian Cashman received interest in Sanchez from other teams following the McCann signing. Sanchez’s blocking and receiving skills are still fairly raw, though he has noticeably improved over the last year-plus, but a team that believes he can stick behind the plate would presumably offer the Yankees a flattering return.